‘Brain-eating amoeba’ suspected of dead child in Nebraska, officials say

This week, a child in Nebraska died of a suspected infection of Naegleria fowlericoften referred to as a “brain-eating amoeba,” health officials said Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting tests to confirm the cause of the infection, Lindsay Huse, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said Thursday.

“Right now, we urge the public to be aware and take precautions when exposed to warm, freshwater sources,” Huse said at a news conference.

If confirmed, this would be the first Naegleria fowleric death in Nebraska history, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services said.

The child died this week in Douglas County, which includes Omaha and communities west of the city, the county health department said in a statement.

Huse declined to give further details about the child’s identity out of respect for the family. She said the child went swimming in the Elkhorn River on Aug. 8 and started showing symptoms about five days later.

The child was hospitalized within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Death occurred 10 days after the child went swimming, said Dr. Kari Neeman, Douglass County medical advisor, at the press conference.

Amebic Meningoencephalitis
Using the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) staining technique, this micrograph shows the histopathological features associated with a case of amebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri parasites.Smith Collection / Gado/Getty Images

Naegleria fowlerica unicellular organism, lives in warm freshwater bodies such as lakes, streams and hot springs, as well as in the soil.

People can become infected if contaminated water gets into their nose. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. The infection destroys brain tissue, causing the brain to swell and die.

Only about three people in the US are infected each year, but those who are die, according to the CDC. The amoeba has been increasingly found in northern states in recent years as air and water temperatures rise.

To protect yourself from the amoeba, Huse suggested plugging your nose when you go underwater.

“Make sure you don’t engage in activities that force water into the nose, like water skiing, high-speed tubing, those kinds of activities,” she said.

In July, a Missouri resident died from being infected. Health officials said the person may have contracted it while swimming in a lake in Iowa.

There were 154 primary amebic meningoencephalitis infections in the nearly six decades from 1962 to 2021, and only four people survived, according to the CDC.

Health officials suggest swimmers try to prevent water from going up through the nose and avoid stirring up sediment in shallow, warm water, but the CDC says these infections are so rare that it’s difficult to determine how effective the measures are. A person cannot get the infection by swallowing water.

Minyvonne Burke contributed.

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